Three hours before the midnight deadline late last night, Dan Totten, president of the Boston Newspaper Guild, sat across from Globe executives in a small conference room and handed them what he called the Guild’s “last, best offer.”
The proposal: $10 million dollars, exactly what the Times Co. had demanded – plus an extra $7,000 for good measure. The concessions cut across the board, slashing employee benefits in 20 different categories. There was a 3.5 percent pay cut for most Guild employees, language calling for an unpaid furlough, reductions in employee health care, and the elimination of some employee holidays, including Martin Luther King Day and Columbus Day.
Globe executives sitting across the table from Totten, examined the proposal. But their reply, Totten said, didn’t take long, maybe just five minutes. (Totten is seen at left in a Globe file photo.)
The offer wasn’t good enough. Gregory L. Thornton, the Globe’s senior vice president of human resources, then delivered a proposal of his own, Totten said, handing a letter across the table: Come this morning, the letter said, the Times Co. was prepared to start the 60-day process to shut down Boston’s 137-year-old newspaper.
(Earlier today, Thornton said that "substantial progress" had been made after a marathon bargaining session at which The New York Times Co. issued an ultimatum last night, saying it was prepared to begin the process of shuttering the 137-year-old newspaper if its unions do not agree to major financial and contract concessions, including the abolition of lifetime job guarantees for some workers. The closing process would be triggered by a filing, notifying the state of its intention to shut the Globe within 60 days.
"We have no plans to file a notice at this moment," Thornton said as he left the negotiations.)
Meanwhile, Totten said of the Times Co. position, “I told them that’s completely unacceptable and told them that if The Boston Globe closes, it’s not the fault of the Boston Newspaper Guild, or any newspaper guild, or any union here tonight.”
Globe executives who were in the all-night negotiations declined to comment when asked by a reporter early this morning at the meeting site in Weymouth. But according to sources familiar with the talks, a major roadblock to a resolution is lifetime job guarantees. Almost 200 Guild employees have those guarantees.
“Lifetime job guarantees are not an issue,” Totten said. “We’re at the 10. We gave them their $10 million.”
But according to officials in several Globe unions, Totten is mistaken: Lifetime job guarantees are most definitely an issue.
In the hours before the pressmen’s union, representing about 100 Globe pressmen, agreed to a tentative deal at about 8 a.m. this morning, union president Martin Callaghan said, “There will not be an agreement without some modification to the job security language.”
And when the mailers’ union president Mary White was asked this morning, after her union’s deal with Globe management, what was the biggest sticking point, she answered quickly: the lifetime job guarantees.
“There was some modification to the job security language,” said White, adding that newspaper management seemed to want that concession just as much, if not more, than the financial concerns. “I think they wanted it bad enough that this was the only way we were going to finish up our negotiations. I think it was necessary in closing the deal.”
Guild members’ lifetime job guarantees date back to 1994 when union members gave up a no layoff clause, plus other concessions, in exchange for job guarantees for some 700 members hired before 1992. These staffers would have otherwise have lost their no-layoff protection, and today about 190 Guild members with guarantees remain at the Globe.
Early this morning, Totten, like other union chiefs, conceded that Globe management has asked repeatedly in recent weeks for the union to alter the guarantee language, but the union has repeatedly refused. Totten said this morning that if the company is interested in modifying the language, then it will have to follow the provisions written into the contract. Under these provisions, a third-party arbitrator would take up the matter, empowered to review company financials, and make a decision based in part on those financials.
“They said lifetime job guarantees are an issue they want to talk about and our response was, ‘There’s a mechanism in the contract to pursue that matter,” Totten said. “We’ve offered that throughout these negotiations and we’ve encouraged that pursuit through the arbitration process.”
But Globe management has not agreed to do that, Totten said. And the Guild, as of this morning, has not agreed to voluntarily modify the language on its own, seemingly creating a standoff.
“The language that’s there – the company agreed to that language,” Totten said. “It’s more of the same. They agreed to that language. Then they want to change it and go back on their word. I find that unacceptable.”
(By Keith O'Brien, Globe staff)